Rights group mobilises for fair deal

Rights group mobilises for fair deal

MASERU – SURVIVORS of Lesotho Dams (SOLD), a rights group, has invited the South African parliament to Lesotho ahead of the construction of the multi-billion Polihali Dam. SOLD, which pushes for fair deals for communities affected by big dams in Lesotho, says the South African parliament accepted the invitation to observe the kind of deals the Lesotho Highlands Water Project (LHWP) is making with the people.
The LHWP, which is going to build Polihali Dam to increase the amount of water Lesotho is selling to South Africa, is a project co-owned by the two countries.

SOLD says the Lesotho government does not seem keen to ensure that communities affected by dam constructions get fair compensation for their land. The SOLD National Coordinator, Thamae Lenka, told a press conference on Wednesday the Lesotho Highlands Development Authority (LHDA)’s compensation policy does not favour the affected communities.

Lenka complained that the LHDA said it “will only compensate the communities for a period of 50 years at the market line with statutory requirements while the communities are demanding life-time compensation or alternatively payment for 99 year period”.

“The main reason why we went to invite the SA parliament is because we want to be heard as the community,” Lenka said. “We want them to come and listen to our calamities as the affected community,” he said. The LHDA has since denied accusations that its compensation policy does not favour the affected communities.

In an earlier press conference the LHDA said it is opposed to the civic society organisations’ attempts to incite communities to reject agreed compensation deals to make way for the construction of the Polihali Dam. The Authority said it was surprised that despite the clear and agreed compensation policy the communities changed tack and demanded hefty packages.

It said it learnt later that civic society organisations were behind the hostile attitude from the communities. The LHDA’s policy is to only compensate them for a period of 50 years at market rates in line with statutory requirements. The Polihali Dam, which will add water into the Katse Dam before being re-tunnelled to South Africa to feed Gauteng Province, is due to be constructed in terms of the bi-national phase two of the LHWP.

The LHWP is a multi-phased project to provide water to the Gauteng region of South Africa and to generate hydro-electricity for Lesotho.
It was established by a 1986 treaty signed by the governments of Lesotho and South Africa. The bilateral project which is estimated to cost at least M23 billion, is expected to create about 3 000 jobs at the peak of its operations. Polihali Dam will be built in Mokhotlong.

Some communities that will be affected by the dam construction have since joined SOLD and are threatening to disrupt the dam construction if their demands for increased compensation are not met. SOLD was founded in 2004 after some of the communities affected by the first Phase of the LHWP – construction of Katse and Mohale Dams – complained that they had not been compensated while others had only received compensation several years after the completion of the dams.

Majobere Selebalo

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